Study Guide

Little Dorrit Book 1, Chapter 19

By Charles Dickens

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Book 1, Chapter 19

The Father of the Marshalsea in two or three Relations

  • Dorrit and his brother Frederick are walking up and down the prison yard. As usual, Dorrit is acting like he owns the place. Also, like he owns his brother.
  • Patronizingly, he starts telling Frederick to clean himself up. (Remember, when Dorrit plunged Frederick into poverty and ruin, Frederick went a little mental and totally stopped washing himself.)
  • On top of that, Dorrit tries to set himself up as some kind of lifestyle example. He's really got some brass ones, doesn't he?
  • Finally, Dorrit walks Frederick to the prison gate and watches him leave, all the while acting concerned about how he's going to get home.
  • Chivery, the turnkey, makes a snide little remark about how much money his son John is spending on the Dorrit family.
  • Dorrit turns around and makes a little speech about how it's worrisome to have his brother out there, but at the same time, a man like Frederick doesn't have what it takes to survive in prison – unlike Dorrit, who happily accepts "donations" without feeling any less a gentleman. With that, he goes back to his room.
  • Amy is there, as always, and she's made him dinner.
  • And now we get a real kicker of a scene. It's pretty crazy, especially considering the general squeamishness of Victorians about sex.
  • Dorrit starts telling his daughter a story about another turnkey, whose brother was into the sister of another long-time prisoner of the Marshalsea... none of whose names he can remember. The upshot is that it was fine for the sister to lead the dude on so the prisoner would get some extra privileges from the turnkey. Hint, hint.
  • OK, in case you're not getting it, Dorrit is basically pimping out his daughter to John Chivery so he'll keep getting cigars and other little perks. Oh yeah – stay classy, Dorrit.
  • Amy is speechless and puts her hand over her father's mouth in shock.
  • He kind of feels bad for a second and then immediately starts feeling way sorry for himself and crying about how terrible life in prison is and how much it's ruined his life, and blah, blah, blah. Not a word of concern or care about his daughter, though.
  • And she plays right into this game, which is totally up her masochistic alley. She's feeling all bad for daddy and not thinking about herself. Somehow she ends up apologizing to Dorrit.
  • Denial ain't just a river in Egypt, folks.

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